Castle Howard - An estate for all seasons

Photographer Mike Kipling spends a year at Castle Howard. Jo Haywood reports on the amazing results

The stunning domed edifice of Castle Howard is pretty difficult to miss, but some of the smaller features of this 1,000-acre estate can easily pass unnoticed in its shadow.

But now, thanks to a new book by Mike Kipling, no photographable stone has been left unturned, no peacock feather unruffled and no water feature unrippled.

‘As a northern landscape photographer I capture the beauty of many wonderful places, the dales, the moors and the coast,’ said Mike. ‘But when I was asked to photograph the Castle Howard estate through the seasons I knew it would be a special commission.

I had photographed the place before – once for a Japanese magazine and once for the local tourism agency – but these were fleeting visits.’

His brief for the shoot was simple: to promote the estate as a wonderful place to visit at any time of year. He started the shoot in March with a blaze of glorious daffodils, followed by rhododendrons and azaleas, summer colour in the walled garden, the crispness of autumn and the winter snow and mist of February when the carpets of snowdrops were in bloom.

‘My photography covered the house, of course, but also the statues, temple, mausoleum, lakes and woodland,’ said Mike. ‘I always fastidiously checked the weather forecasts to get the best conditions and, though there were odd disappointments, there were many more memorable moments.

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‘A particular shot I really wanted was the north face of the house reflected in the Dairy Pond. To get the sun on the house, this shot could only be taken in June at about 8.30pm. I tried several times and each time the breeze rippled the water and spoilt the shot. Then suddenly the wind dropped and a perfect reflection appeared and, as if by magic, one of the famous Castle Howard black swans swam into the image. What a bonus.’

Most of Mike’s work was carried out early in the morning or in the hour just before sunset as this is when the light warms and sculpts the landscape.

‘I was privileged to be in this wonderful park with only the haunting calls of the peacocks and pheasants for company,’ he said. ‘My photography shows no people and illustrates what the estate was like when it was just a family home rather than the major tourist attraction it now is.’

As the objective was to show the gardens and estate through the seasons, it was important to create a suitable context for the photographs. Mike purposefully created foreground features of plants, trees and shrubs as a foil to a longer vista of one of the major features such as the house, temple and mausoleum.

The photographs were originally commissioned as promotional material but culminated in such a unique and beautiful collection that a book soon followed, a project conceived by the Castle Howard curator, Christopher Ridgway.

He has been curator for more than 25 years and has a tremendous knowledge of the estate, which he has transformed into an extremely informative introduction to the book, complimenting the 150 photographs capturing a year in the life of Castle Howard.

‘These images have recorded a year in the landscape, and in the course of 12 months the forms and colours of all that is visible undergo frequent shifts and changes,’ said Christopher.

‘No two visits are ever the same: on clear days in summer the detail and variety are brought into sharp focus, but on misty days in winter a dramatic atmosphere pervades the grounds. Castle Howard never stands still; it remains a landscape of perpetual drama and event.’

His words are obviously important, but what about the Howard family – what do they think of this new collection of photographs of their family home?

‘The joy of Mike’s superb book is that he takes us on a much deeper and more satisfying journey than the one-off “good shot” that most of us can manage with the help of a modern camera and a sunny day,’ said Simon Howard, who lives at Castle Howard with his wife Rebecca and their twins Merlin and Octavia.

‘It’s a testament to Mike that there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation in giving him absolute access to the estate. He is the most unassuming of gentlemen and it’s a great credit to him that he managed to spend a year in our back garden without us ever knowing he was there.’

The Gardens at Castle Howard by Mike Kipling is published by Francis Lincoln at �16.99. To see more of his work, visit

Set within the 18th-century walled garden, the Rose Gardens originally comprised three adjoining enclosures - Lady Cecilia's Garden, the Sundial Garden and the Venus Garden.With their romantic Italianate trellises, hornbeam hedges and backdrop of brick walls, these gardens are a sheltered paradise of colour and intoxicating perfume, where visitors will enjoy a spectacle of massed roses.Lady Cecilia's garden was established in 1975, dedicated to the memory of Lady Cecilia Howard, and is filled with the old roses, Albas, Gallicas and Damasks - some seldom seen elsewhere. The garden is at its best during late June and into July, when soft, pure colours contrast with the under plantings of gillyflowers and lavender and the scented Philadelphus.In total there are 2000 modern roses of all types, including David Austin's English roses, making this one of England's most comprehensive collections.

Throughout the summer, within each garden and along every alley there is an abundance of colour and fragrance.

Video by Castle Howard

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